Darnell Ferguson got the call about 6 in the morning Sunday, Jan. 10: SuperChefs, the St. Matthews restaurant created and co-owned by him, Ryan Bryson and Rodney White, had suffered a devastating fire. The same for Chef Maria’s Greek Deli next door.
The two businesses are part of a modest, one-story strip center at 106 Fairfax Ave. shared with a nail salon, and El Tarasco and Silvio’s restaurants. Neither of those eateries suffered significant damage or a loss of business, which is amazing given the conflagration took 50 firefighters to extinguish. Crews from multiple departments fought the pre-dawn blaze amid snowfall, high winds and ice caused by firehose runoff.
“What woke me up was a text from (WAVE-3 reporter) Julian Glover asking how I was doing,” Ferguson said. That Saturday night, SuperChefs notched a record sales night, and the exhausted Ferguson slept right through 20 missed calls from friends checking on him. “I texted Julian back, ‘Huh?’ … But when I checked voicemail, I went straight to the restaurant.”
Ferguson said the site of the smoldering building shocked him, leaving him wondering whether he was dreaming. Though the fire was under control, firemen stayed until 3 p.m. to ensure it wouldn’t reignite.
A week after the blaze, the cause has yet to be determined. Ferguson, whose business is insured, said discovering how the fire started is the least of his present worries.
“Now it’s all about talking to the insurance company and trying to help our staff get jobs at other restaurants,” he said.
Thankfully, area restaurateurs were one step ahead of him the day the fire happened.
“I got a call from the general manager at Stout (Burgers & Beer), the manager at Macaroni Grill on Hurstbourne, another from Down One Bourbon Bar — all these people saying they’d take some of our employees,” he said. “They even said that when we re-open, those employees are free to go back to SuperChefs if they want. It’s been amazing to see how good this city is. That’s what should be known about this whole thing.”
Multiple restaurants and charities are reaching out to help both restaurants. The day of the fire, Joella’s Hot Chicken announced on social media that it would donate a portion of that day’s proceeds to Maria’s and SuperChefs, and on Jan. 12, J. Harrod’s made a similar offer. The same will happen on Jan. 18 during the weekly Ten Tables pop-up event at America. The Diner.
APRON, a charity created by the city’s independent restaurateurs to help in such crises, also is busy accepting applications from employees of Maria’s and SuperChefs who need immediate financial help to cover their loss of income.
“We’re in the process of approving grants to both restaurants’ employees,” said Dawn Bianconcini, president of APRON. “What we’d do is pay things like utilities or phone or rent for people who apply for help.”
APRON accepts direct donations at its website, but Bianconcini said local restaurant fans also could help by participating in its annual Dine Around for APRON on Feb. 3. That night, more than 50 participating restaurants will donate a portion of their proceeds to the charity.
Bianconcini said this disaster likely will take a big dip from APRON’s cash reserves, and that the timing of the Dine Around is crucial to replenishing funds.
“This year’s event is really important to us,” she said. “We’ve had restaurants call and ask how they can help through us and ask to be part of the Dine Around. And we’re still accepting any restaurant that wants to participate.”
Ferguson said a Go Fund Me page working to raise money for SuperChefs’ restoration was not started by him or any of his associates. He also said he has no idea who set the fundraising goal of $250,000.
“That’s an inaccurate number, and we’re trying to figure out how to stop it,” said Ferguson.
Though his business is insured for fire damage, he said it did not have business interruption coverage.
Ferguson said he expects SuperChefs will be rebuilt at its current site, though he said choosing another site is an option. He and his partners already are discussing how to create a better operation that not only runs smoother, but could include a separate dinner component.
“We like breakfast and lunch as they are, as SuperChefs,” he said. “But we’ve got some ideas on how we might change dinner to its own thing.”
Though his own source of income is gone for the moment, Ferguson remains upbeat, saying the fire is in the past and that he’s excited about the future.
“Where I am now reminds me of that part in the Bible (2 Samuel 12) when King David mourned and prayed for his sick son to live,” Ferguson said. “But when he died, he stopped crying, got up and went on with his life.
“When I first got there and saw the fire … that was a lot. But I’ve been through the crying and stuff. Now I’ve got to get back to thinking about God and look for what he’s got planned. Only thing I’ve got to worry about now is getting it built back up.”